Time Out

We’ve had a week of big emotions. A lot of anger and tantrums from the pint-sized population.

And I’m trying out something new.

Every time one of the kids freaks out, I’m calm. I offer words and solutions. That’s old hat. But when one or both refuses to listen to gentle reminders that “we don’t hit mommy,” or “use your words, please, so I know what you want,” I lock myself in the bathroom.

It’s not an ideal technique, I’ll grant you. I’m sure it’s not a Dr.-Sears-endorsed way of coping. But I’ve totally regressed in this week of absolute chaos. And I have such a raging temper that, if I stay and try to reason with the inherently unreasonable, I eventually lose it.

I’ve always liked locking doors. As a kid, we had one room that locked: the bathroom. My brother and I would fight, and when it got nasty I’d run straight for the bathroom. Lock. Space, relief, and relative safety.

Even in corporate life, when my stress levels rose, I’d head for the bathroom. Big mirrors, granite counters, brass rails, and locking doors all spell deep breaths and rapid recovery. Personal space brought to you courtesy of American shyness about excretion.

So I’m trying the retreat-to-the-loo technique here. To keep the peace. To show the boys that I will not tolerate being abused. To offer a game changer and a reset button. To cue a new round of, “it sounds as though you’re angry. Would you like a cuddle?”

Yesterday Butter and I came home for lunch. He said he didn’t want to eat. I told him okay, but that I wanted leftover stirfry. So I scooped and reheated. And he screamed and raged and tried to knock the bowl out of my hand. I explained it was just for Mommy. He freaked. I offered some, in case he though I was keeping it from him. He took a swing at me. I offered him his own bowl; I offered yogurt; I offered to go outside with him; I offered to let him choose.

He screamed and hit me.

So I said, “I can’t stay here if you hit.” And I walked downstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. Childish and ridiculous. But I got to shovel a few bites my broccoli into my empty body all by myself. Without being hit. An unusually productive meal, actually.

When I came out one minute later, I offered to cuddle him. He took me up on it. Calm, cuddly, and full belly?

Bathroom for the win.

Peanut came home from school later the same day in a foul, foul mood. As the minutes clicked away, he yelled at me, he called me names, he pushed me. I explained each time that I absolutely would not stand for that behavior and that feeling grouchy is fine but spewing anger on other people is not. I offered him some options, including the game of taking his own grouchy face off, crumpling it up, and putting it in his pocket so the sweet Peanut inside could cuddle and read books. He screamed at me. So I went downstairs and locked myself in the bathroom.

You may remember that, when the now 6-year-old Peanut was small, I made the mistake of staying in the room as tempers escalated. My belief that I couldn’t leave him when he was troubled, no matter how violent he got, was not good for my blood pressure. Or emotional well being. Or our relationship.

So this week I leave. I explain briefly that I will not stay for screaming and hitting, and I go. They hate it. They cry and beg me to come out. And that goes against every bit of my “follow your instincts and do what is kind” parenting.

But I totally love the door between us. Admitting my relief at abandoning my tantruming children might get my attachment parenting card taken away, but I don’t care anymore. Locking myself in the bathroom means my temper stays in check and I can reset my energy back to where it needs to be when dealing with insane raging lunatics.

Hiding behind a locked door means not teaching them that people will stay when they’re being terrible. I have always wanted them to believe that I’m a safe person with whom to lose it, but, increasingly, I reject that idea. You may *start* to lose it with me until you lose it *at* me. You may rage and writhe. But you may not hit me. I can help you find words and solutions. I can let you know you’re loved while and when you’re done being angry.

But I will not stand still and be an inflatable Bozo for your punching needs.

So excuse me. I have to go stash some magazines in the bathroom. I think I’m going to be in there a lot.

Okay, Listen up.

Seriously. You have to listen to me this time. I am a parenting genius for today only, and I must share.

I found the secret to ending a tantrum. More specifically, a two-year-old’s tantrum.

Both my kids have very strong opinions. [Shocking.] The eldest used to yell at people at the supermarket if they looked at him. “THAT LADY NO LOOK AT ME!” Every person in the store. Screamed at them. I learned to shop at 10pm by myself when that kid was Two.

One of his longest, most intense tantrums was in the car. He started yelling “That car no on road! MY ROAD!” He yelled and screamed and sobbed for almost an hour that the cars and trucks on the road must get off his road.

And I talked nicely the whole time. I patiently explained how roads worked, and taxes. I explained that he could use his money, as a grownup, to buy his own road, but for now we had to share. “I understand,” I said. “I want them gone, too. But they have rights.” I told him about rights.

Not one single word worked. Not even the taxes part. [Again with the shocking revelations. I’m on a roll.]

[Wait, you’re rolling your eyes, aren’t you? You would have ignored him, I’ll bet. Yeah, aside from my inability to go that route, this kid was un-ignorable.]

Cue the tantrums of the youngest. Wow that kid has lungs. And opinions. And the helplessness that launches a thousand tantrums.

Yesterday we drove past a front-end loader. And an excavator. And a backhoe. (I know, right? Why the backhoe if you have the other two? Why have the two standalone tools when the backhoe is all things to all projects? Why the redundancy? Dunno. Wish I did.)

All three trucks were stopped. We paused, we looked, we evaluated. We let the little guy give the cue to move on. (We’re not crazy. We wait ’til he says “bye-bye” to a construction site or we’re Dead.In.The.Water. Even the kindergartener knows this.)

After we leave, the Almost-Two starts demanding more trucks. Loudly. A tantrum is a-brewin’.

“That’s all, Butterbean. You want more trucks but I can’t make more trucks.”

“YES!” he shouts. “More!”

The older one just shakes his head. “No,” he says. “No more.”

Well, that’s it. Little guy is gone. In his place is a raging sobbing machine who will not rest until he sees more trucks. Especially since his brother said “no.”

So I try my favorite tantrum technique—empathy—but ratchet it up seven hundred fold.

“Aaaaaargh!” I yell. “I want more trucks!”

He calms down to listen.

“I like trucks” I shout, “and I want more!”

The Almost-Six protests. “Mom. You don’t even like trucks.”

“I know, buddy. But watch this work.” I continue. “I LIKED those trucks and I want MORE! And I’m mad there are no more trucks. ANGRY!”

The littlest gets it. He joins in a bit, he adds his two cents. He calms markedly. Finally, as I repeat that I’m angry, the toddler yells his sound for “angry”. All three of us bellow a barbaric yawp.

And the tantrum is done. I feel great (though hoarse). The older guy is relieved. The younger guy is satisfied.

So all I’m saying is: don’t ignore and don’t explain. Join in. It feels good, they feel heard, and all is happy and good in no time.

If you’ll excuse me, I think TED might want this lecture now….

[Update: one hour after I posted I got emails that this genius invention of mine is already a thing. In a book. By some parenting expert person. Figures, of course. The one moment I have parenting success could have come earlier and more frequently if I read a book, an event that happened before kids but hasn’t since.]

We now rejoin our regularly scheduled rant…

already in progress:

…and you’d better call the insurance bastards to see if it’s covered.

As for you, Peanut, you are a very interesting introduction to the fine, fine phase that is Four Years Old. Nothing could be worse than Three, it is true. But if Three was all Mr. Hyde and no Jekyl, Four is the maddening experience of discerning what dropped hat sends you from Jekyl to Hyde and back. No, I will not pick up the toy you kicked across the room. You threw one, I took it away. You threw another, I took it away. Most of your collection is on top of the bookcase today, waiting to see which version of you comes out of your room tomorrow morning. So when you kick a toy out of anger, you get to pick it up yourself. No, you do it. Cry all you want; I no longer flip out when you’re in distress. A newborn has made me immune to your terrorist tactics. Butter is the antidote to my occasional Peanut allergy.

Butter, you’d better stop it. Seriously. Knock it off. I followed all your nonverbal cues, I did everything you wanted, and I got you to sleep. Just because I moved the slightest bit does not mean you can flutter your eyes open and start flirting with me. Yes, you’re cute. Yes, you’re still tiny enough that everything you do is precious. Your loud sleeping is delightful, your recent partial baldness is adorable, and your waste products are coo-inspiring. But go to freaking sleep, you little monkey!

And quit suggesting that you want to nurse just so you can gather huge mouthfuls of milk and the spit them on me. That’s not funny, despite what your brother says.

Hey, agents who have my novel and haven’t replied in well past the 6 weeks you promised: screw you! What is wrong with you? All the other rejections came within the appropriate timeframe. It’s rude to set a deadline and miss it without notifying involved parties that you need longer to complete the task. I don’t want your representation, anyway. This thing is gonna be huge, and so will the next dozen or so I write, and you’ll rue the day. You’ll weep, you’ll rend your garments and pull out your hair. You’ll want a time machine to take you back to when you first heard my name just so you can jump at the chance to take on all my current and future brilliance. You will self-flagellate, and you will be correct in so torturing yourselves.

Sure, Peanut, we can go to the playground. Sure you can climb that big ol’ thing you’re always scared of. Sure I can help you down. Just turn around and…no, I can’t climb up there with you. I can’t help you from up there. I can help you from down here. No, I can’t take baby home and come back without the sling. Even if I did, I’d still be short and unable to lift 35 pounds down from well above my head. I will stand here and talk to you gently for 30 freaking minutes, convincing you that I will help and you won’t fall and you can do it. And after that interminable period of patience and goodness and model mothering, during which I have to take two time outs to keep from beating you and one to nurse your brother, I will grab you by the ankles and pull you off the play structure. Yes, you technically fell. I mostly, kind of caught you, though. It was a slow fall. Are you hurt? No? Good. Come on. Time to go make you the dinner you request and then refuse to eat.

It’s all about balance, I guess. Maybe.

So first week of school for Peanut, predictably, meant first week of the worst freaking tantrums since the dawn of time. (Not seriously. He’s a low tantrum dude. But on *his* Richter scale, this weekend was off the f–ing charts.)

We had him screaming in the supermarket, knocking down boxes of Top Ramen. We had him running full tilt through the freezer aisle and opening every door, just before I caught him and flung him over my shoulder kicking and screaming to make a speedy exit. We had him whining and sobbing and yelling at us, really yelling, with every single Lego piece that did not obey the laws of physics and geometry on whatever planet this non-Euclidean, non-Newtonian kid lives on. We had a day, basically, of “I will help you when you can treat me respectfully, but I will not stay in the same room with that voice,” all day, both days. And we had him yelling at my sweet little 94-year-old grandmother, on my birthday, that she was not allowed to talk to me, only *he* can talk to me.

Clean up! Aisle Six! Some lady is sobbing about something or other, and her puddle of tears is activating the Top Ramen secret flavor packets.

I knew we’d pay dearly for the first week of preschool. I know it’s a lot of change and his world is upside down (shut up, Drs. Sears, he’s in a co-op where I’m there and everything is all child-directed, for a grand total of three hours a day thrice a week, so don’t tell me from upside down world until you’ve lived with a highly spirited intense opinionated way-too-smart kid for three and a half years, and then I’ll show you upside down world) so he needs an emotional outlet. But must *I* be the outlet? Holy Freaking Meltdown of the Social Order, Batman, we need a tranquilizer dart from Babies R Us.

Upside of the whole insane weekend of terror, though? My mom watched the new person formerly known as Peanut for an evening in which Spouse and I saw a real, actual film on a screen and had a real, actual meal at a quiet restaurant. As in feature film rated something I didn’t have to check because who cares? and menu without crayons.

More important, uproariously funny Clooney and MacGregor flick at which the rest of the audience politely tittered and I laughed so hard and so loudly that people glared at me. Dumbest movie I’ve seen in years and absolutely pants-wettingly funny. See it. The Men Who Stare at Goats. I think. I don’t care. The title’s not important. When you see it, email me about the “what are the quotes for?” line. And the sparkle eyes scene. It’ll make me wet more pants. And I only have, like, two pair that fit right now, so what a laundry honor that will be.

And even more important, we found a fabulous restaurant I’ve never tried, in whose menu I was very pleased, and with whose policy of offering wine by the bottle, glass, or 2 ounce taste I was thrilled. Because a “taste” of wine is totally under the radar of *every* hyper-vigilant American obstetrician I’ve ever met or read. No, not a sip, and not a glass. A technical, measured, duly noted on the receipt, “taste.” Spicy syrah. Lovely. From what I tasted.

Did I mention George Clooney and Ewan MacGregor? Nobody laughed but me. And you know how much i don’t care that other people on the planet are too dumb to get good jokes?

Today was not much easier with Peanut, but he slept a full nap and I had a huge pot of homemade chili at my elbow as I thought about and refused to the the 20 really pressing things on my to-do list. And instead started a new book that pleases me GREATLY.

And you know what? Volcanic bullshit from my kid on a day where I get a few hours with Spouse, and whiny exhausting understandable but unbearable nonsense from my kid on a day where I have freshly made chili and a new book is totally a good weekend. Because his bullshit is, as of today, no longer going to be my bullshit. It will be my atmosphere and my backdrop and my full time g.d. job, but I’m gonna do my best not to breathe it in and let it rattle me. Cuz, dammit, I have George Clooney and chili and twelve choices of bruschetta and Ewan MacGregor and a new book, y’all.

Ewan MacGregor.

Ah, perspective.

After getting so far in the weeds I couldn’t see the sky anymore, I grabbed my copy of Elizabeth Pantley’s The No Cry Discipline Solution.

I’m feeling much better now. A bit of perspective, a few new techniques, some reinforcement for our AP style, and a welcome reminder that all the stuff I used to do was very well grounded in child development and therefore might work again.

Sigh. Pantley brought some welcome help for our sleep issues (not a solution, by any stretch, but some help) and is now my new best friend for getting back to teaching and away from yelling. She might just be my Valentine this year.